Dudi Sela: Underappreciated Israeli sports icon

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By Noah Johnson
For the Mitzpeh
@Mitzpeh

When Dudi Sela bowed out of the 2017 Miami Open following his second round defeat to No. 5 Rafael Nadal, it seemed to many as just another routine victory for the Spanish superstar. However, to fans and admirers of Sela, this match was another opportunity for one of the most respected Israeli-born athletes to perform on an international stage against a world-class opponent.

While Sela has yet to capture a title in men’s singles, he has become an icon among Israeli athletes and fans for his consistent production at the professional level.

Sela was born on April 4, 1985 in Kiryat Shmona, Israel. He spent his childhood surrounded by three siblings and in the company of his father, Michael, a bus driver, and mother, Anca, a nurse. Sela became captivated by tennis at an early age, hitting the court for the first time at the Israel Tennis Center in Kiryat Shmona as a 7-year-old who admired fellow Israeli, Amos Mansdorf. Mansdorf holds the record for highest world ranking in men’s singles by an Israeli-born player, checking in at No. 18 in 1987.

Sela would follow in Mansdorf’s footsteps, turning pro in 2002 and cracking the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) men’s singles top 50 when he advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon, 2009. His No. 29 ranking was the first time an Israeli-born player had boasted a top 50 ranking since Mansdorf in 1993. In fact, his Round of 16 appearance was the first by an Israeli-born player since Mansdorf at the 1992 Australian Open.

“At his frame of 5’9”, Sela definitely plays with more finesse than power, and it shows in long rallies,” said Thomas Tran, a junior physiology and neurobiology major who plays club tennis at this university. “He has a pretty crisp backhand.”

 

Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela serves during a Davis Cup match against Ivan Miranda of Peru. Assaf Yekuel via Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela serves during a Davis Cup match against Ivan Miranda of Peru. Photo by Assaf Yekuel via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Coached by Yoav Ben Zvi, Sela developed a playing style that has allowed him to become a mainstay in professional tennis. Since his debut in 2002, the Israeli right-hander has carved out a personal niche in the professional landscape.

“Professional tennis is a very difficult career,” Tran said. “The season is about 10 and a half months long, and attaining a sustainable income is very hard.”

Sela began making a name for himself long before his run at Wimbledon. His No. 9 juniors ranking on Dec. 30, 2002 ushered in a professional career that is in its 18th year. The 32-year-old boasts an impressive 60-22 record in International Tennis Foundation Futures play and a 268-121 mark on the ATP Challenger Tour, where he is second all-time with 21 singles titles. He made his tour-level debut during the 2005 Davis Cup and earned his first victory at the 2007 Australian Open.

While Sela has been a consistently productive professional, he has been unable to rise into the upper echelon of the men’s game. Dominated by players like Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, tennis is a difficult sport to break into at the professional level.

“Basically when you win early in your career, it makes life easy,” said Nick Emm, a freshman geophysics major and a club tennis player at this university. “The best get better faster than the worse get better, if that makes any sense.”

Still, Sela has shown flashes of brilliance. He reached his first men’s singles final at the 2008 China Open in Beijing, where he eliminated top seeded David Ferrer in two sets before falling to second seeded perennial superstar Andy Roddick in the final. In 2014, Sela danced to the final at the BB&T Atlanta Open in men’s singles, before stumbling against top seeded John Isner.

Along with his exploits in men’s singles, Sela has also competed in doubles, where he has enjoyed modest success. Currently ranked No. 149 in the world by the ATP, Sela’s 23-41 record may seem unremarkable, but that count does include a title victory alongside first time partner Flavio Cipolla at the 2016 Istanbul Open, his only title on the ATP World Tour.

Recently, Sela has enjoyed consistent success, finishing in the ATP men’s singles top 100 nine out of the past 10 seasons. Following his defeat to Nadal, the Israeli ranks at No. 97 in the world, putting together a 5-8 record in 2017 while bringing home over $150,000 in prize money. Over the course of his career, Sela has earned over $3.2 million in competitive play.

While not on the court, Sela lives in Tel Aviv with his wife Marina, three-year-old son Ilay and one-year-old daughter Talia. He enjoys spending his off-time surfing in Netanya, Israel, spending time on the beach and following soccer, where he supports his local club, Kiryat Shmona, as well as English giant Manchester United.

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